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Staff shortage cripples EMA

By SASHA HARRINANAN Monday, July 21 2014

click on pic to zoom in
WEEKEND WEDDING: Attorney General Anand Ramlogan proudly poses with his nieces,  from left, Faria Khan, Maariyah Khan, Hadiyah Khan and Raisah Khan, w...
WEEKEND WEDDING: Attorney General Anand Ramlogan proudly poses with his nieces, from left, Faria Khan, Maariyah Khan, Hadiyah Khan and Raisah Khan, w...

ILLEGAL quarrying is one of several environmental concerns which the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) is unable to properly monitor and deal with due to a severe shortage of environmental officers.

Addressing a Joint Select Committee (JSC) of Parliament last Friday at Parliament Chamber, Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port-of-Spain, EMA chairman Dr Allan Bachan said, “Our current capacity of environmental officers is 11 for the entire country! We have submitted a proposal to Cabinet to increase our number by 100 officers, not only to deal with illegal quarrying but with illegal logging and scrapyards.”

The issue of illegal quarrying particularly in Toco, Valencia and other parts of north-east Trinidad, was raised by Justice Minister and Senator Emmanuel George, who recalled the “once pristine green hills of Toco, viewed while in a plane headed to Tobago, are now marred by quarrying activity.”

Bachan said the authority was doing its best to monitor all quarries, but that dealing with this “very sensitive matter” has in the past resulted in threats to EMA officials, including himself.

“There is a risk factor. You would remember last year (August) when we had a joint exercise and the Director of Minerals’ (Monty Beharry) house was shot up, as well as my own life was threatened. We need to appreciate the risk associated with these interventions.”

However, the EMA is determined to pursue its mandate, Bachan noted. As such, it has “fostered a number of relationships over the last year or two; especially with the Ministry of Energy (and) the Commissioner of State Lands.”

The JSC also asked how up-to-date the legislation governing the EMA actually is, to which Bachan noted the last amendment occurred in 2001, and that the Environmental Management Act was in serious need of further review and amendment.

“Over the last six to eight months, the Board has been pursuing changes in the legislation and looking at new legislation, including the Solid Waste and the Hazardous Waste rules.”

He also said compliance, monitoring and enforcement were critical components if the EMA is to be more effective.

Hence its decision to “look into the hiring of specialised people, given the different type of industries which are applying for permitting applications.” Bachan noted that in recent years, there has been an increase in permit applications in the agriculture, quarrying, and oil and gas sectors.

The EMA was later called on by JSC member and San Fernando West MP, Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, to train police officers to use noise monitoring equipment, to help address a regular complaint of her constituents about noise in their neighbourhoods.

“Every public meeting I have in my constituency, the complaint is about noise. I’m talking about elderly citizens and babies, who are at home, who are disturbed by the noise from next door.”

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